Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Eye-contact in childhood and adolescence

Effects of age and social anxiety

Michiel Westenberg
NWO Open Competition SSH NWO Open Competition SSH

dr. Roy Hessels, Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University
dr. Ignace Hooge, Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University
prof.dr. Tom Hollenstein, Developmental Psychology, Queens University

When do socially anxious individuals begin to avoid eye-contact?

Social anxiety is anxiety about negative evaluation and rejection by others. Adults with high levels of social anxiety tend to avoid eye-contact in naturalistic social situations. This tendency may inadvertently maintain or aggravate their anxiety. Avoidance of eye-contact is generally assumed to begin in childhood or adolescence, but youth studies have been scarce and their results contradictory. Furthermore, very little is known about the typical development of gaze behaviour during conversations. The present project aims to clarify differences in eye-contact between children and adolescents in general and between socially anxious youth and their non-anxious age-peers.

Interpersonal dynamics

Previous studies have also neglected the interpersonal dynamics of eye-contact within a conversation. Each conversation partner influences eye-contact by initiating or breaking it. Additionally, implicit rules relate eye-contact to conversational turn-taking. We will study eye-contact in a naturalistic conversation between a participant and a confederate, while both wear eye-tracking glasses. Moreover, we will adopt a dynamic approach to analysis to identify specific patterns of gaze behavior in addition to the total duration of eye-contact.

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